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Wrecking Ball
October 11, 2005 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Who Lost Gordon Bunshaft's Travertine House? 1) Widow of Lever House architect Gordon Bunshaft wills art filled modernist house (+ 2.4 East Hampton property) to The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). MOMA takes art, sells modernist house to Martha Stewart. MS guts house, lets rot, transfers ownership to daughter who sells it. New owner tears down modernist house, left with 2.4 acres of waterfront property.
posted by R. Mutt (18 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Cronies are everywhere.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:03 AM on October 11, 2005


Pfeh!

And we're supposed to be surprised?
posted by aldus_manutius at 8:24 AM on October 11, 2005


Well, that sucks I guess.
posted by delmoi at 8:25 AM on October 11, 2005


Who Lost Gordon Bunshaft's Travertine House?

MOMA takes art, sells modernist house to Martha Stewart.

You kind of answered your own question there. MOMA re-gifted the house to the queen termite. Blame MOMA. End of story.
posted by ToasT at 9:15 AM on October 11, 2005


Practically criminal.

Darn MOMA.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 9:16 AM on October 11, 2005


oh yea ...And the August issue of Vanity Fair reports that much of the house’s former travertine floor now paves the kitchen of Martha Stewart’s new home in Bedford New York, a clapboard compound that also features an Amish-built barn and a century-old fence brought from Canada.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:42 AM on October 11, 2005


They can still build houses, right? I mean, we as a society have not lost this important ability?

What's the big deal?
posted by wakko at 10:33 AM on October 11, 2005


They can still build houses, right? I mean, we as a society have not lost this important ability?

What's the big deal?
posted by wakko at 10:33 AM PST on October 11


Seriously. That's why I support the demolition of the Sistine Chapel, to be replaced with a megachurch modeled on Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:51 AM on October 11, 2005


Why not? I mean, it's just a building.

Plus those paintings on the ceiling are played out like lawn darts.
posted by wakko at 11:00 AM on October 11, 2005


That's why I support the demolition of the Sistine Chapel

Can we apply some small sense of proportion here? This Travertine house was not exactly a cultural icon.

Why not? I mean, it's just a building.

An ugly one at that, in my opinion. Flat, boxy, with one long window. It looked like a VCR.

If MOMA sold it like an old Chevy and Martha used it for spare parts, that's their business. Contemporary American architecture will survive.
posted by ToasT at 11:15 AM on October 11, 2005


But I need to feel outraged at something today.
posted by wakko at 11:36 AM on October 11, 2005


I'm not outraged because it isn't surprising, but it is shameful that the MOMA sold it with no strings attached.
posted by missmerrymack at 12:41 PM on October 11, 2005


america is littered with abandoned, falling down, modernist showpieces. here's one within 30 miles of me:

http://www.jetsetmodern.com/catalano.htm

there's another one falling down, a matsumoto, just down the street from my office, but i don't have photos of it.
posted by 3.2.3 at 2:39 PM on October 11, 2005


Modernist architecture can, when it is good, be very beautiful. But unfortunately, they often used materials that simply don't wear well. This house probably would not have lasted long without major work in any case.
posted by jb at 4:35 PM on October 11, 2005


There is also a limit to what preservation can do, and what we cann preserve. My heart breaks to think of the destruction of medieval buildings this century, to make way for tacky malls. But have you ever lived in a medieval building? A friend of mine had, and said the only bathroom was outside and across a court. Even in Victorian buildings, the plumbing can be awful. And at my husband's college, they have a beautiful (also though drafty) modernist building - the concrete is crumbling away. It's listed, but listing cannot prevent the deterioration of the inferior materials it was constructed with. Do we expect people to live in buildings that are falling down?

In those circumstances, it might be best to stop fighting to keep the original and to document fully - we can always recreate the beauty to share.
posted by jb at 4:41 PM on October 11, 2005


Do we expect people to live in buildings that are falling down?

Of course not, and that's a specious straw man argument. The principles of architectural preservation are clear -- there is no shame in adaptive reuse. Preserve the overall form, preserve the specific beauty of decorative elements, but the owner may substitute new materials where appropriate and even add to, or improve, the original. There's nothing wrong with air-conditioning and indoor plumbing.

Had Stewart repaired the structure, she would have been free to make as many unobtrusive changes as she liked. Nobody would begrudge her modern kitchen appliances, for instance, and few would really expect her to maintain the interior spaces as a paean to modernism in its art and furniture.

Surely this isn't equivalent to the loss of the Sistine Chapel, one of the defining works of the entire Renaissance, and probably on anyone's shortlist of buildings to be saved in case of imminent meteor strike. This is perhaps more like the wanton destruction of a particular Liechtenstein or Pollock. Sure, we've still got others, and anybody can pick up a paintbrush, right?

The sad thing is that these masterpieces which are being lost on a regular basis are only the tip of the iceberg. Cities such as Chicago, which is probably not nearly alone in experiencing a residential building boom over the last 15 years, are losing whole swathes of 19th and early 20th century architecture, to be replaced with boxy condominiums of seriously deficient character. Oh, the postmodern pastiche that is the dominant form lately isn't as bad as some fads we've been through, but it's seriously disappointing to see whole blocks of them where once there were a dozen or more fantastically varied buildings from different eras.

If we can't get people to get worked up over the masterpieces, though, what hope do the anonymous works of forgotten craftsmen have?
posted by dhartung at 8:22 PM on October 11, 2005


> It looked like a VCR.

Stalin could have done better with concrete blocks. In fact, he did.


> Sure, we've still got others, and anybody can pick up a paintbrush, right?

If the entire past--or even a large part of it--is preserved, living artists suffocate under its weight and people cease to pick up paintbrushes. Consider the case of contemporary classical music, under the weight of all those recordings of masters back to Josquin and earlier. No generation can stand competition and comparison like that, and Beethoven and Mozart didn't have to. It is of critical importance that we do lose most of the artistic past, "treasures of humanity" and all (not that the Bunshaft house was one) if the energy to create in the present is not to be stifled. And continuing to create is necessarily priority 1.
posted by jfuller at 4:23 AM on October 12, 2005


Do we expect people to live in buildings that are falling down?

Of course not, and that's a specious straw man argument.


Um...no it isn't. I was speaking of a specific building that is in fact falling down. The structural elements are deteriorating.

They would have to rebuild the entire building bit by bit. It's also a beautiful building from the outside, but utterly non-functional on the inside - there are very few bathrooms or showers, because at the time people were expected to bathe weekly. So you would have to remake that as well, which would mean changing large design elements (to fit them in). And after so many changes, when is the building simply not the original building you wanted to preserve?

The argument I was making was that buildings are art, but they are also homes and offices and places. They must function - and there are limits on how much we should demand that they not change, when that change is necessary to their function. We can't demand that people who live in medieval houses don't add plumbing or central heating - heck, their ancesters already ruined the whole effect by adding ceilings and second storeys.

I actually think it's a shame about this specific house - but short of turning it into a museum, would someone have been willing to have lived in it with only adaptive reuse? It cost millions of dollars and had just two bedrooms. I would have happily lived in it as the original, but that's also because I don't have millions of dollars and think two bedrooms is a large house.
posted by jb at 5:10 AM on October 23, 2005


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